Why should I learn English?

Pearson Languages
teenage boy studying with headphones on and  with a laptop

English is the second most widely spoken language – it is estimated that nearly two billion people worldwide can speak English at a useful level. That means they can hold a conversation with other English-speaking people.

A report by the British Council attests the importance of the English language to the world, and says that non-native English speakers far outnumber native speakers. It also recognizes how being able to speak English can give individuals a competitive edge over others. If you're asking the question, "Why should I learn English?", read on to find out more...

Why should I learn English?
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Gaining a competitive edge can be particularly appealing for people seeking new jobs or looking to advance in their careers. Because of the number of English speakers in the world, many international companies choose English as their language for business use.

Well-known companies such as Renault, Samsung and Airbus are using English in the workplace and it’s not a moment too soon. Using the language is helping them to facilitate communication and make their businesses more efficient.

In emerging markets like China, India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Vietnam, or low-income countries striving to climb the ladder of economic development, it is the urgent priority of governments and non-government organizations to ensure that the surging population of global youth has economic opportunities and upward mobility.

The idea of learning English has widely been accepted as best practice and programs are in place to facilitate this, such as the Right to Reading initiative in India. Students sit in state-of-the-art computer labs to learn how to master the English language. They listen to a voice with an Indian accent read from their textbook, and every spoken word is displayed on a large screen.

There are many other reasons why studying English today is a smart choice. Because the language is understood in many parts of the world, being able to speak English can give travellers confidence and help them integrate into the culture.

Imagine visiting The Shard in London, or the Chrysler Building in New York and being able to find out more about these impressive structures in the native language. Interacting with the locals in their native language – or a language that is common to both speakers – provides learners with interesting experiences, while the satisfaction of the accomplishment boosts motivation for further learning.

As well as learning the language for pleasant conversations, there are more benefits than just experiencing a confidence boost. Medical research has shown that there are several cognitive benefits to learning another language, and these include:

  • Being a better listener: Being bilingual requires your brain to discern between two sets of very distinctive sounds and to identify them accurately.
  • Being less distracted: Speaking in a foreign tongue requires the active suppression of the other language(s) that one knows, shown to better inhibit overall distractions.
  • Becoming a better multitasker: For someone who knows multiple languages, it’s a common occurrence to switch rapidly between tongues, effectively an exercise in quickly and efficiently switching between different tasks.
  • Better ability to problem-solve and be creative: Speaking in a foreign language inevitably requires creativity when faced with unfamiliar words or phrases in order to communicate effectively. Studies have shown that bilinguals have an advantage in overall problem-solving and creativity.

There are also health benefits associated with mastering English. A study from the University of Edinburgh found that those who spoke two or more languages had significantly better cognitive abilities in later life and had effectively slowed the brain’s aging process, with the potential to even delay the onset of dementia. The same researchers found that bilingual people are twice as likely to recover from a stroke than those who speak just one language. Dr Thomas Bak, one of the researchers, said that switching languages “offers practically constant brain training, which may be a factor in helping stroke patients recover”.

Research led by Dr Daniela Perani, a professor of psychology at Vita-Salute San Raffaele University in Milan, found that people who speak two or more languages seem to weather the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease better compared to people who have only mastered one language. Alzheimer’s is a progressive mental deterioration (dementia) that can begin in middle or old age, due to generalized degeneration of the brain.

We looked into this more closely in our blog post, How being bilingual can keep your brain in good condition, and were pleased to say that the theory that being bilingual can be a buffer against aging and dementia is backed up by a further study conducted by a team led by Professor Ana Inés Ansaldo at the University of Montréal. The results suggested bilingual people have stronger and more efficient brains compared to those who only speak one language.

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    “Grammar, which knows how to control even kings” - Molière

    When you think of grammar, “rule” is probably the first word that pops into your mind. Certainly the traditional view of grammar is that it’s about the “rules of language”. Indeed, not so long ago, teaching a language meant just teaching grammatical rules, plus perhaps a few vocabulary lists. However, I’m going to suggest that there’s actually no such thing as a grammatical rule.

    To show you what I mean, let’s take the comparative of adjectives: “bigger”, “smaller”, “more useful”, “more interesting”, etc. We might start with a simple rule: for adjectives with one syllable, add -er, and for adjectives with two or more syllables, use more + adjective.

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    Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite work either: we do say “cleverer”, but we also say “more sober” and “more proper”. And there are problems with some of the one-syllable adjectives too: we say “more real” and “more whole” rather than “realer” or “wholer”. If we modify the rule to fit these exceptions, it will be half a page long, and anyway, if we keep looking we’ll find yet more exceptions. This happens repeatedly in English grammar. Very often, rules seem so full of exceptions that they’re just not all that helpful.

    And there’s another big problem with the “rule approach”: it doesn’t tell you what the structure is actually used for, even with something as obvious as the comparative of adjectives. You might assume that it’s used for comparing things: “My house is smaller than Mary’s”; “John is more attractive than Stephen”. But look at this: “The harder you work, the more money you make.” Or this: “London is getting more and more crowded.” Both sentences use comparative adjectives, but they’re not directly comparing two things.

    What we’re actually looking at here is not a rule but several overlapping patterns, or paradigms to use the correct technical term:

    1. adjective + -er + than
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    4. repeated comparative adjective: adjective + -er + and + adjective + -er/more and more + adjective

    This picture is more accurate, but it looks abstract and technical. It’s a long way from what we actually teach these days and the way we teach it, which tends to be organized around learning objectives and measurable outcomes, such as: “By the end of this lesson (or module) my students should be able to compare their own possessions with someone else’s possessions”. So we’re not teaching our students to memorize a rule or even to manipulate a pattern; we’re teaching them to actually do something in the real world. And, of course, we’re teaching it at a level appropriate for the student’s level.

    So, to come back to grammar, once we’ve established our overall lesson or module objective, here are some of the things we’re going to need to know.

    • What grammatical forms (patterns) can be used to express this objective?
    • Which ones are appropriate for the level of my students? Are there some that they should already know, or should I teach them in this lesson?
    • What do the forms look like in practice? What would be some good examples?

    Existing grammar textbooks generally don’t provide all this information; in particular, they’re very vague about level. Often they don’t even put grammar structures into specific CEFR levels but into a range, e.g. A1/A2 or A2/B1, and none fully integrates grammar with overall learning objectives.

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    • Is built on the Council of Europe language syllabuses, linking grammar to CEFR level and to language functions
    • Uses international teams of language experts to review the structures and assess their levels

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    • Search for grammar structures either by GSE or CEFR level
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    • Find out which grammar structures support a given learning objective
    • Find out which learning objectives are related to a given grammar structure
    • Get examples for any given grammar structure
    • Get free teaching materials for many of the grammar structures

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    Unlocking the power of multilingualism: Celebrating European day of languages

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    Language is not only a tool for communication but also a means to explore and comprehend diverse cultures, traditions, and perspectives. Europe, with its vast array of languages, is a prime example of this linguistic diversity. Each year on September 26th, Europe observes the European Day of Languages, which is a day solely dedicated to celebrating and embracing this linguistic richness.

    Europe is a magnificent tapestry of languages, with over 200 spoken throughout the continent. This diversity is a symbol of the rich cultural heritage of each nation and reminds us of the intricate historical, social, and linguistic elements that mold our identities. The European Day of Languages inspires people to cherish and honor this linguistic heritage.

    Why September 26th?

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    Check out what events are happening near you here.

    Just like the European day of Languages, we at Pearson Languages are fully committed to empowering and celebrating language learners and educators alike. That's why we are now supporting French, Italian, and Spanish language learning with the Global Scale of Languages (GSL). With these new language learning frameworks at your fingertips, you can confidently design curriculums and personalize learning pathways to help fast-track your learners’ progress and help your learners be themselves in French, Italian and Spanish.

    Whether you're a teacher, a language learner, or simply someone who appreciates the beauty of languages, the European Day of Languages and the GSL provide exciting opportunities to explore, learn, and enjoy the rich tapestry of Europe's linguistic heritage.

    Find out more about the Global Scale of Languages